In 2020, there were 22 weather or climate disasters that impacted the United States, each of which cost $1 billion or more in damages. In fact, all told the storms amounted to $95 billion in total damages. There were a record seven tropical cyclone disasters, 13 severe storms, one drought disaster, and one that was attributed to wildfires.
Not only did these disasters destroy infrastructure and cost lives, but they also impacted electrical utilities across the nation. In Texas, for example, the February winter storm was one of the most expensive in history. The historic freeze took down many of the state’s generators, leaving electricity companies to buy the power they needed at exorbitant rates as natural gas prices rose more than 700 percent as the storm continued. One main reason for power outages from this storm was ice build-up on mature trees that impacted power lines.
While Texas lawmakers look at approving billions of dollars in financial relief to electricity and gas markets, utilities elsewhere in the nation are reeling from the ongoing battery of storms and weather disasters. Hurricane Ida has spotlighted problems with Louisiana’s largest grid operator, Entergy Corp., where slow power restoration is a criticism of the energy giant. Ida knocked down trees across its path — from Louisiana to Mississippi and points north — leaving millions without power.
This scenario is being played out across the country and energy providers are seeking to grapple with growing demands. In the meantime, electrical utility budget planning is commencing for 2022 and there are various decisions to be made.
Electrical Utility Budgeting and Planning: Pinpointing and Planning for the Cause of Outages
Fall is the time when most utilities issue their Requests for Proposal for the following year. When budgets are robust, utilities can invest in a robust vegetation management program that can help prevent the kind of devastation the aforementioned storms caused. Not only do utilities have to increase their focus on bolstering infrastructure, but they must keep a keen interest in preserving and maintaining the infrastructure already in place.
This just makes good fiscal sense.
Trees are the Leading Causes of Power Outages
It’s true. And, if a tree falls on a power line, the utility that owns the line is responsible for the damage. And in fact, the National Electrical Safety Code requires utilities to ensure that vegetation — including trees and branches — are pruned, trimmed, or removed to prevent damage to lines that could create a risk of injury.
But Trimming Trees is One of the Least Expensive Ways to Manage Power
Electric utilities want to deliver power as inexpensively as possible. Harry Ng, a project manager for the Electric Power Research Institute, notes that tree trimming and removal is the fastest, easiest, least expensive way for utilities to supply power to customers. A tree management program costs three to 10 times less than burying existing lines.
The results of a good tree trimming and management program are calculable. Kansas City Power and Light manages to get great results in one of the most treed cities in the nation. They began a serious tree trimming program after a major storm in 1985. Using their tree management program, they have achieved a 90 percent reduction in tree-related outages.
Other power companies such as Arkansas Power and Light have doubled their budget for tree trimming, moving from $6-$8 million to $12 million.
Post-Pandemic Cuts Might Keep Electrical Utility Budgets Tight The operative word here is “might.” Since COVID-19, commercial demand for power has declined while the more profitable residential demand is on the rise. There are many issues facing modern utilities, including replacing or bolstering legacy infrastructure and increasing their ability to meet rising demand.
Continuing Tree Management: The Smart Fiscal Choice for Electric Utilities’ 2022 Budget
It’s simple. Even if budgets are tight, the least expensive way to reduce the potential of costly damage and power outages, not to mention reducing the potential for expensive lawsuits, is to create and maintain a robust tree management program.
Just take a look at California’s PG&E, a power company that is facing numerous lawsuits for failing to cut trees that posed a danger in wildfire-prone areas. This utility has experienced several serious issues that were attributable to inadequate vegetation management activities that led to unforeseen outages. Whether or not your budget is tight, a strong tree management program is an essential element of a smart fiscal program for power utilities.
· Keeping trees trimmed is less expensive than buried power lines.
· Trimming trees reduces power outages and associated damages up to 90 percent.
· Managing vegetation reduces the probability of costly lawsuits.
Notably, staying on top of your current tree trimming program is important. If your tree trimming program is allowed to falter, coming back later to take care of more mature vegetation can end up costing you double — or more.